Arabic ʿilm is fairly well rendered by our “knowledge”. However, “knowledge” falls short of expressing all the factual and emotional contents of ʿilm. For ʿilm is one of those concepts that have dominated Islam and given Muslim its distinctive shape and complexion. In fact, there is no other concept that has been operative as a determinant of Muslim civilization in all its aspects to the same extent as ʿilm. This holds good even for the most powerful among the terms of Muslim religious life such as, for instance, tawhîd “recognition of the oneness of God”, ad-dîn “the true religion”, and many others that are used constantly and emphatically. None of them equals ʿilm in depth of meaning and wide incidence of use. There is no branch of Muslim intellectual life, of Muslim religious and political life, and of the daily life of the average Muslim that remained untouched by the all-pervasive attitude toward “knowledge” as something of supreme value for Muslim being. ʿIlm is Islam, even if the theologians have been hesitant to accept the technical correctness of this equation. The very fact of their passionate discussion of the concept attests to its fundamental importance for Islam.
Franz Rosenthal, Knowledge Triumphant, The concept of knowledge in medieval Islam